International climate talks scheduled for Glasgow in November have been thrown into doubt as the global clampdown on travel intensifies because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Government officials said it was increasingly likely that the annual UN gathering would be postponed given the fast-changing situation. “Nothing is definite yet but from my vantage point I would bet on it being cancelled pretty soon,” said one Whitehall official. One senior figure close to the talks said that it was “near impossible” to do the requisite diplomatic heavy lifting required in the lead-up to the summit: “It makes some sense to push back the timetable,” he said.
The “COP26” would see more than 30,000 people from around the world come to Scotland for about a fortnight for intense discussions on how to cut carbon emissions in the coming years.
With big international gatherings, such as the IMF spring meetings, already either cancelled or made virtual, participants in such conferences said it was inevitable that the COP26 meeting was not certain to go ahead on schedule.
Countries, governments and officials had limited bandwidth to set policy in multiple areas simultaneously and climate change was inevitably less of a priority at present than dealing with the coronavirus crisis, they said.
A government spokesperson said that the situation was being monitored closely.
“We continue to work towards hosting the event in Glasgow in November, which is eight months away,” she said. “Given this is an evolving situation we are keeping the situation under careful review and are in frequent contact with the UN, Chile (as current COP president) and other partners.”
It is not clear when a decision has to be made on proceeding with or postponing the meeting.
One participant close to the process said that there were potential advantages to delaying the COP26 meeting from November, as it is due to start just under a week after the US presidential election. The incumbent president, Donald Trump, has long been sceptical about the threat from climate change.
If there was a new US administration with a different attitude towards global warming, a meeting in 2021 would allow time, the participant said, for the US to play a leading role rather than being one of the countries holding others back.
The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change has postponed all meetings scheduled before the end of April as a result of the pandemic, and is monitoring the rapidly evolving situation before cancelling summits further in the future.
Travel bans and the closure of international borders may make it impractical for meetings to go ahead even if coronavirus outbreaks in the host countries are contained.
“Covid-19 is clearly reducing the scope for in-person international meetings, which we will seek to manage as far as possible through other means such as video and phone conferences,” said one London official.
The postponement of the pre-COP “intersessional” June meeting in Bonn would not necessarily mean that the main summit in November would have to be delayed, as a stripped back preparatory meeting could take place closer to November.
Although discussions are under way between the UN and the UK, no final decision has yet been taken on whether to postpone either June or November.
Credit: Source link